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Common Nonsense : Where's the Elbe?

【明報專訊】'Happy news' is a sarcastic oxymoron these days. International news in particular rarely turns us happy. The Russian three-days vote starting 17-19 September just drew to a close (yes, I'm writing this on 21 September) but the outcome has always been a foretold story. Vladimir Putin and his political machine United Russia Party expectedly maintain their supermajority in the Russian Duma (more or less their Parliament) even though this time the number of their seats taken was thinned out from 334 to 314. If Putin had ever been slightly upset, he didn't show it at all. He still cared to thank the Russians for their 'trust and active stance in life.'

Some Russians were active indeed in pursuing their trust in democracy. Alexei Navalny, the once poisoned and now imprisoned opponent of Putin, though being behind bars, had nevertheless managed to cause his associates and followers to put up and sustain an app available in Google's Play Store and Apple's App Store for some time to advise the Russian voters how to vote tactically until Google and Apple got cold feet, dropping the Navalny app right before the election days after bowing to the Russian authorities' multiple legal demands. The tactic was just tactical (or too humble) by persuading the voters to vote for some 'loyal opposition' candidates who were not from the United Russia but, possibly, members of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation which is no fellow traveller of Navalny's. By the way I was just fed with the news that the Russian communist candidates had gathered in the pouring rain in central Moscow protesting for their upsetting results and reversed fortune in the election. But who cares?

Then why didn't Navalny field his friends and associates in the election? He tried and tried hard. The brutal fact is that months ago the Russian court declared Navalny and his Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) an extremist organisation and thus outlawed the political party. Anyone who supports, works for or associates with his cause or organisation would risk meeting Navalny in jail. Some of Navalny's associates were defiant and dared to enrol in the election and, fortunately, just got disqualified. Even his defence lawyer Ivan Pavlov (not the Russian psychologist with an ever-salivating dog!) and Team 29 (the loose group of lawyers and journalists championing rights and democracy in Russia) got disbanded in the face of the threat of prosecutions for acting as a foreign agent. Navalny is no Midas turning everything he touched into gold. Rather he unfailingly delivers his kisses of sure death as Judas did.

Understandably Navalny got no friends in the field and he could just imagine ruffling Putin's feathers a bit by looming behind the banner unfurled by the 'loyal opposition' (thus not genuine opposition) in the form of the Russian communists.

Honestly and merrily, we may not be too bothered by the Russian Duma election. In fact the Russians were demonstrably apathetic too as the turnout rate in the election was just 52 percent. They should, from far and away, envy zealously the turnout rate of our Election Committee election held on the same day when the Russian counterpart ended: a handsome 89.77%! We all cheer for our election and its righteous results whereas the Russian apathy is perfectly intelligible. 'In a system in which the state is the main player, arbiter, and employer, elections are a ritual of anticipatory obedience,' wrote Andrei Kolesnikov, a senior fellow serving the think tank Carnegie Moscow Centre. Kolesnikov is so unkind in debunking the debunkable.

Some seventy years ago, Bertrand Russell wrote, "The word 'democracy' has become ambiguous. East of the Elbe it means 'military dictatorship of a minority enforced by arbitrary police power.' " Russell was manifestly proud of the democracy practised in the west of the Elbe, though he's still sufficiently cautious. 'Suppose the British Constitution were to be changed in only one aspect: the General Elections should occur once in thirty years instead of once in five. This would so much diminish the dependence of Parliament on public opinion that the resulting system could hardly be called democracy.'

Russell would be surprised from his grave today when he learns that the Russian election still occurs once in five years.

I thus always look up my atlas to locate where the River Elbe lies these days.

■by Lawrence Lau•劉偉聰

Lawrence is a life debater who has to debate with his life. Being a barrister makes him a living while reading and writing gives him a life. This is his cat 寅恪.

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